The Million Dollar Question: Why Me?

The Million Dollar Question: Why Me?

Article written by Linda Crockett founder of the Workplace Bullying Resource Centre (workplaceharassment.ca) and co-author, Janice Gilligan White, founder of The Empowered Employee.

Hundreds of thousands ‘Volunteers, Students, Employees’ targeted by bullies in their organization ask the question, “why me”?

Whenever someone experiences a shock or trauma, people try to make sense of these confusing and threatening experiences. Like a car accident, most targets do not see the harm coming. Unlike a car accident, however, there are many unpredictable shocking and confusing offenses that continue to occur. These offences may occur several times a week for months, or years, to come.

Making the circumstance even more difficult to process, targets discover that these offenses were often conscious, intentional, and malicious. They also realize that the policies, leaders, and departments set in place to protect them not only failed to stop the abuse but aided in it.

Targeted employees are often left with the loss of their beloved place of employment, and/or careers, failing health, broken families, shattered belief systems and are also left with the question of, why me?


Before we begin, let’s define workplace bullying for those who are uncertain.

When we hear the word bullying, many people have instant images and assumptions of the stereotypical playground bully. These images most often involve a bigger child (big as in size, voice, or personality), teasing, intimidating, or physically harming a meeker and milder child. We want to emphasize that cases of adult bullying are not like cases of childhood bullying. Workplace bullying can progress to physical assaults; however, it is primarily psychological harassment or psychological violence.

Adult bullying is about the psychological and physical health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. Adult bullying is about the abuse of power. Research shows up to 74% of bullying is coming from leadership. Power comes in many forms. In cases of lateral or horizontal bullying (equal employees), an equal employee can use personal information, distort the truth, start a rumor, and/or give incorrect guidance in attempt to sabotage their equal colleague.


Why Me?

To help you better understand why you were most likely targeted, we have listed the top 6 key reasons workplace abuse happens to someone. What’s perhaps even more important is the reassurance that you had or have little control in what has taken place, and you are not at fault.

You may identity with one, or a combination, of the following:

1. You Were in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time (The Perfect Storm)

 Have you ever been excited to start a new job only to learn later on that you have walked into a hives-nest of unresolved historical leadership and staffing issues? Perhaps the last leader was a laissez faire leader playing favorites, ignoring numerous staff conflicts along with their brewing resentments and apathy. The new leader is an authoritarian type leader who justifies his/her actions of what they describe as, ‘cleaning up the mess’ left behind. There is a perfect storm brewing with resentments and animosities all around you. You are innocently and naturally full of excitement for your new job yet, you are right in the middle of a storm – an easy scapegoat, and an easy target.

 This is an example of wrong place wrong time. There is nothing you could have done to bring this on, and little you could do to prevent or change the impending storm. This storm started without you.


Quick Note of Advice

 From the date of hire create a work portfolio. In this portfolio document all positives including compliments, verbal or written thank you i.e.: cards from staff or clients, promotions, supervision notes, awards, bonuses etc. Also, document each and every concern you observe and experience, including emails, voice mails, minutes, memos, supervision notes, etc. Good note taking is essential today.

 Keep your portfolio updated and located off the worksite. In today’s world this is necessary.


2. Insecure Leadership

 Many employees are hired and/or promoted into positions of leadership when they have little or no training or experience. Anytime an adult is held to a higher expectation of skill level and responsible and are accountable for the organization’s success, there is a great deal of stress and pressure. People want to do well when given these important opportunities. What if they are not prepared, feel insecure, incompetent, and wish to present themselves as the opposite? Who pays for that?

If an insecure leader perceives a staff member as being more naturally skilled and competent, they may isolate, ostracize, or find ways to sabotage this employee’s relationships and/or reputation. In this scenario, your skill set and strengths, have been seen as a threat. For this reason, you have been targeted. There is truly little you could have done to avoid being targeted. In fact, many of us try harder just to get the bully off our backs. With insecure leaders, the better you are, the worse of a threat you become.  


Quick Note of Advice

Don’t change. Be you. But document everything the moment you feel uncomfortable. As noted above, keep copies of all directives. Documentation is extremely helpful on many levels. Fight the temptation to become silent, apathetic, or to isolate. This enables the bullying. Reach out for help i.e.: family, friend, doctor, workplace bullying expert, coach/counselor.


4. You are different in some way 

 This is when we see discrimination as a factor in workplace bullying. Statistics show us that minorities are at a higher risk of being targeted.  Perhaps it is race, age, gender, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation that places them at risk. For others, it could be their height, weight, hair style, complexion, medical needs, socio-economic status, high intelligence, low intelligence, and/or physical or intellectual disability. This usually begins very subtly and/or passive aggressively. Like with all cases of bullying, if left unaddressed, it progresses to more obvious offenses.

“Even if you were perfect, you would be bullied for being perfect. It isn’t about any  flaws or imperfections, we all have something that makes us unique, it is about   something going wrong inside the bully.”  Linda Crockett


Quick Note of Advice

It is easy to forget who we are when we become overwhelmed with someone’s criticism and negative attacks. To cope with this, you will need to have a support system. Never go through this alone. You are worth supporting!

5. You have become thought of as a ‘problem in the workplace’.

 Many employees become targeted in the workplace after speaking up about an issue they faced at work. This can include reporting harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, unethical behavior, reporting a safety concern, or taking a leave of absence.

          Reporting abuse is the right thing to do, but sadly, this can make things worse. Especially if the person you are complaining about is a favorite. Once I reported a woman in my office for having an affair with her colleague. He would frequently be her acting supervisor, so this was unethical. She was always taking time off, coming in late, breaking the rules with confidential files, and spending hours giggling in his office. Instead of this being addressed, they transferred me out of this office. I was devasted and betrayed.

In another case, one of my clients reported abuse, and they systematically fired her.  

          While many companies have policies in place that have the appearance of a no tolerance policy, a confidential help-line to report issues at work, and/or respectful workplace training, the reality for many employees is that they become seen as a problem in the workplace. A problem that they want to silence or get rid of.

It’s not your fault that your organization has not been accountable for following through on their own policies and procedures regarding zero-tolerance of bullying, nor for failing to protect those who have the courage enough to report the abuse. At the end of the day, what this means is that you do not fit into the toxic pool. Take a little comfort in that.


Quick Note of Advice

We recommend before making any decisions to file a complaint, resign, or make any significant changes, that you consult with an experienced professional to: a) debrief, b) gain clarity, c) become well informed, d) protect yourself from further harm and have no regrets, and e: and develop a strategy for next steps.

This support will bring you a sense of confidence, safety, and personal control. This is what you need with these cases.


6. Nepotism

Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.

Many targets of workplace abuse report frustration over the favoritism, unfair work distribution, unfair training opportunities, lack of recognition for credentials, and someone hired or promoted with no credentials or role experience that often plagues them, leading to being marked for elimination.

       Robert began working for a company which was ‘created and owned’ by a husband, wife, and their two adult sons. The sons were always in conflict, and the husband and wife were going through a divorce. The battle of ‘who is in charge’ was a daily occurrence. Unfortunately, Robert became the scapegoat in the middle. This became extremely stressful for Robert for everything he did was sabotaged, cancelled, changed, or criticized by one of the family members. It wasn’t about his work; he loved his job and he was excellent at his work. It was about the owners who lost sight over their common goals and instead, fought for power. Sadly, this impacted Roberts self-esteem, confidence, and sense of safety in the workplace.


Quick Note of Advice

When interviewing for a position, ask about family members on staff and their policies to manage any potential concerns. Here is a link to a sample policy for nepotism. You want to be sure you have information on solutions if you are ever in this situation. Nepotism will always be a part of the workplace.  Here is a sample of a workplace policy on nepotism.

Perhaps the most important question now is, what now?

It’s important to understand that there is no “one size fits all” explanation for why certain people are targeted. It’s also important to keep in mind that each case is as unique as each individual and the organization involved.

          It is beneficial to be aware of your own biases, past experiences, assumptions, values, beliefs, and level of knowledge when it comes to workplace bullying. Be sure to clear any barriers in the way of accepting new information and different possibilities. With these steps in place, you are more prepared to assess your case with an open mind and a holistic perspective.

          As you’ve seen in our top 6 “Why Me” scenarios, there is nothing anyone, anywhere, at any time could have done to deserve any form of abuse. You are never at fault when someone abuses their power over you.

Develop strong self-insight, confidence, self-esteem, assertiveness, and work towards the best version of you. Never stop doing your best just because someone is jealous. Take control of your voice, actions, decisions, and journey through life. Resources to educate, guide, support, advocate, and help you recover, are available.


Quick Note of Advice

We cannot emphasize how important it is for you to have clarity of mind and stability of psychological symptoms i.e.: depression, anxiety, rumination, emotions, before making any important decisions. Seek assistance to process options, solutions, and strategize your next steps. Seek a workplace coach/therapist who is experienced in this area.

This article covers 6 of the top reason’s we believe employees are bullied. There are more. Below we have included a list of risk factors for employees to become aware of, especially if you are now interviewing for a new position.

This article covers 6 of the top reason’s we believe employees are bullied. There are more. Below we have included a list of risk factors for employees to become aware of, especially if you are now interviewing for a new position.


Additional Risk Factors

  • Change in the workplace i.e., change in leaders and/or ownership.
  • Unresolved historical staffing issues
  • Lack of policies and procedures related to bullying and Harassment,
  • No safe process to report and/or no protection against retaliation policy
  • Lack of policy re: nepotism
  • Inconsistent follow through on policies and procedures
  • Long term crisis situations with low support or resources
  • Lack of adequate training for all staff re: bullying and harassment prevention
  • Hiring without merit and giving positions to friends, family, other agendas.
  • Contact Linda Crockett for a more extensive list or discussion on risk factors.

Final Advice

If you lack confidence or self-esteem, invest in taking courses, attend coaching sessions, or seek counseling to heal and build you up. If you have unresolved trauma or abuse in your past, be sure to work on this for it will strengthen you, give you freedom, and prepare you for people who are mean, incivil, unprofessional, and/or abusive.

  • Become aware of your rights as an employee in the organization, and also your legal rights.
  • Learn what you can about workplace bullying and harassment.
  • Document, document, document.

Talk to someone. There is always hope, it may not be in the form you prefer, but we want to help get there.


Main Author Linda Crockett has 32 years’ experience in professional social work, including 10 years with a master’s degree specializing in this area. She is a Workplace Bullying Institute alumnus, and the founder of a workplace bullying resource center (workplaceharassment.ca). After experiencing PTSD due to a chronic case of workplace bullying, she opened a center to assist Employers, Employees, Medical Teams, Insurance Companies, Investigators, Unions etc., with addressing complex cases of bullying. Linda is an activist who has lobbied for changes in legislation, and a certified trauma therapist who provides coaching and clinical treatment to those who have suffered a psychological injury. Linda also assists with positive changes in those who are identified as perpetrators of bullying. She is well known as a pioneer in Alberta, Canada with her workplace bullying resource center. Contact: Linda Crockett at www.workplaceharassment.ca or  780-965-7480 

Please follow me on:  Twitter:  @BullyingAlberta  Instagram:  Alberta_Bullying_resources   Linkedin:  www.linkedin.com/in/abrc   Facebook:  @workerssafety


Co Author Janice Gilligan White is the founder of the Empowered Employee Facebook. She holds a degree in psychology and is affiliated with the Workplace Bullying Institute and End Workplace Abuse Now. She is the co-founder of Re-Define, a premier group that hosts summits, workshops, and retreats for targets of workplace abuse. She serves as a board member for the National Workplace Bullying Coalition and leads a Dignity Together peer support group. In addition, she co-hosts Two Targets Talk, a weekly chat   aimed at breaking the shame and silence surrounding workplace abuse.

Website: theempoweredemployee.com

Follow me on: www.facebook.com/tehempoweredemployee/   Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/janice-gilligan-white-b7719a155  Twitter https://twitter.com/JaniceGIlliganW


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